I have to admit that this week's The Sunday Edition took an unexpected turn last Saturday that caused a missed edition. Its original goal was to debunk the fact that a gigantic negoçiant such as Labouré-Roi could put a Nuits Saint George on the shelves of US stores for under $40 and do so legally. It was a knee jerk reaction to the latest scandal that threatens to rock Burgundy to its very foundation. You can read about the latest fraud accusations here. As a self professing crazed Burgundy lunatic I prefer to let someone else tell the story. It saves me the anger and the vision of punching a Cottin square in the face screaming, "What the hell were you thinking? Do you really need the money that bad?" Then, throwing a couple of euros and a towel at him saying "Clean yourself up." Fade to reality.
I started researching the actual costs associated with importing a singular bottle of wine into the US and delivered to a Connecticut retailer for sale to the consumer. Considering cost of glass, cork, capsule, State and Federal excise tax, shipping cost and label registration, I've come up with a crude estimate of $4.16 per bottle. Keep in mind there is no wine in that bottle yet nor any margin taken by any layer of the necessary three tier system. Add in those margins. Give the importer 20%, the wholesaler 25% and the retailer 30%. $4.16 is quickly $9.90. There is still no wine in the bottle! Think about that the next time you blame sulfites for your hangover.
While researching this crude number I ran across an article on Seriouseats.com written by Terry Theise. Yes, the Champion of Champagne, the Rex of Riesling, The Terror of Terroir, need I go on? I can always count on Mr. Theise to derail the direction of most things I write. All levels of wine consumer should be forced to read this article and I implore you to do so. It so very well explains what the smart and passionate wine shops of our area are trying to accomplish. Check out Part 1 and Part 2.
So what's this have to do with the Labouré-Roi scandal? In The Wine Spectator article, Sherry Lehmann COO Shyda Gilmer is quoted as saying, "It's so important. This destroys the core of Burgundy." and "This is bad for Burgundy-definitely damages Burgundy, but it's really destructive for Labouré-Roi". The Wine Spectator also reports that Sherry Lehmann has pulled the Labouré-Roi wines from their shelves. If you are one of the premier wine shops in New York City why are you carrying and offering your customers Labouré-Roi Burgundies in the first place? Big business, that’s why. The very existence of powerhouse negoçiants such as Labouré-Roi, Louis Jadot and Vincent Girardin is the root of the why such fraudulent activities take place. The scandal is NOT bad for Burgundy. It IS bad for negoçiants and powerhouse companies with shareholders to answer to. It exposes the very real threat to the consumer that when you buy from powerhouse companies you can’t possibly know exactly what you are getting. Why? Because even they don’t know. Many don’t even care. Their only interest is in the bottom line.
In the article on Seriouseats.com Terry Theise comments, “So all in all, the best way to ensure you are actually paying for wine in and of itself, is to buy from small family Old World domains. You also enjoy the collateral benefit of keeping these lovely cultures alive and healthy.” It’s something to consider the next time you reach for the “the brand you know” rather than the “other guy”. Remember, if you saw it advertised or saw a major media score, you’re paying for that. Wouldn’t you rather reward the farmer and winemaker than the ad agency? Of course, considering all this, maybe I should shake the hand of a Cottin and say “Thank you”. Perhaps they have opened the eyes of many.